I was well into Joan C. Willams’s
Reshaping the Work-Family Debate: Why Men and Class Matter when Anne-Marie Slaughter's piece in the Atlantic,
Why Women Still Can't Have it All hit the stands. Like Slaughter, who left her position as Director of Policy Planning at the State Department to rejoin the faculty at Princeton University, I would have to agree that academia provides the kind of
flexibility often necessary to combine family and career successfully. Still college and university campuses are no panacea.
Mary Ann Mason and Marc Goulden,
Mason, Goulden and Nicholas Wolfinger, and
Cheryl Geisler and Deborah Kaminskiare among those who argue that women’s advancement in academia continues to be negatively impacted by childbearing and childcare responsibilities.
My own climb up the faculty ladder of success has been slowed considerably by the time “off” required to bear my four children, nurse and nurture them, educate and otherwise care for and prepare them to become stalwart members of our community. But the ladder has not been pulled out from under me.
I am among the relatively few lucky ones. Williams argues that s0me of my less fortunate sisters have been pushed “off,” or out of work, by discriminating and inflexible workplaces that persist in functioning as if employees with children all have someone else available – more rather than less full time – to care for their progeny. Unlike Slaughter, among many others, whose reference point is a well-educated, affluent mother whose spouse can easily bear the responsibility of being the sole wage-earner when she “opts out” of her career, Williams also considers working class women, and men who are committed as much to family as to a job or career.
Currently, more than half of the American workforce is female, and most of them have children under 17. Considering social norms – particularly among religious conservatives, and in working class communities – still support the expectation that mothers belong at home with the kids, it is not surprising that more than half of working mothers feel
guilty about not spending enough time with their children. Yet a majority of stay at home moms worry about not making a sufficient contribution to the family [income]! No wonder Williams argues that today’s workforce reflects a “mismatch between the workforce and the workplace.”
What to do?
- Families matter. The section of Slaughter’s essay on “revaluing” family values is spot on. Employers need to realize that caring for children is at least as important as the many other “outside” activities their employees engage in. As a mother and a marathoner, I’d have to agree with Ms. Slaughter that taking care of children is far more challenging than
trainingfor a marathon.
- Tame the schedule. Slaughter is not the first to suggest that the daily lives of working parents would be eased considerably if school schedules matched work schedules. In lieu of realizing that dream anytime soon, Williams offers up a number of ways in which employers might increase workplace flexibility to accommodate the demands that children’s schedules, and emergencies, make on working parents. These include making it easier to work from home, swap shifts, volunteer for mandatory overtime, and take vacation/sick/personal time.
- We’re all in this together. The underlying theme of the current buzz over how to manage our desire for balanced lives that might include a fulfilling career and a satisfying family life is that none of us is alone. There is no denying that individual choices do affect overall productivity in the workplace. The challenge is to recognize that there are many ways in which individual employees might craft their lives to enhance productivity, and create the processes necessary for them optimize their life choices without taking undue advantage of one another, or jeopardizing the business operation as a whole.
- Policy alternatives. According to Williams, “The United States has the most family-hostile public policy in the developed world.” Every year,
Working Mothermagazine publishes lists of the 10 best companies for women to work for, and the top 100 companies in the nation in terms of their support for families. The remaining 30 million business enterprises may need a swift – policy – kick in the pants.
We certainly have our work cut out for us.
Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Atlantic Article: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/why-women-still-can-8217-t-have-it-all/9020/
On the constraints on women’s so-called choice to work or not: http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/06/1-wives-are-helping-kill-feminism-and-make-the-war-on-women-possible/258431/
Working Mother’s best companies for women’s advancement: http://www.workingmother.com/best-companies/10-best-women-advancement